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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Billings Hospital Considers Rationing Care As COVID Hospitalizations Climb

Billings Clinic in Billings, MT.
Courtesy Billings Clinic
Billings Clinic in Billings, MT.

New COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations in Billings are putting so much strain on the local health care system that one hospital may start rationing care as early as this week.

Yellowstone County reports 1,986 active cases of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, 250 of those were new.

“That means that right now we have almost doubled the number of inpatients in the hospital who are hospitalized with COVID over the last two weeks,” says Dr. Nathan Allen, a Billings Clinic ER physician.

“Fifty percent of those patients who are COVID positive and hospitalized are under the age of 60. It varies from day to day, but about 90% of those patients who are hospitalized are unvaccinated,” he says.

Hospitals across Montana have seen a spike in COVID-related hospitalizations. In Billings, ER visits are putting so much pressure on the hospital that it’s considering implementing “Crisis Standards of Care” protocols. In other words, triaging care to those who need it most. That includes decisions about how to save the most lives by allocating or reallocating ventilators, ICU space or decisions about when resuscitation efforts are appropriate.

As of Wednesday, the Crisis Care Standards had not yet been implemented, but hospital officials say that could happen this week if the COVID surge continues. Billings Clinic officials will make that decision based on guidance established by the state health department and endorsed by Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Allen, who helped create the state’s Crisis Standards of Care, says they’re designed to be fair, equitable, non-discriminatory, and transparent.

As a medical ethicist, Allen says he’s discussed these standards his entire career.

“But it is still surreal to see a tragedy like this unfolding before you that you hoped would never happen to your community.”

On Wednesday 10 Montana National Guard soldiers volunteered to assist Billings Clinic in non-clinical roles, as staff are stretched thin.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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